He Operates in Limbo as Israel Hemorrhages Internationally
Seemingly unaware of the rapidly shifting Middle East sands around them and the changes in the world arena, the heads of Israel's governments are clinging to business as usual on the same old track to nowhere.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his National Adviser Uzi Arad are deep in preparations for what they call an "urgent and vital" encounter at the White House with President Barack Obama.
No date has been finalized but it has been tentatively fixed for late June (before or after the Saudi King visits Washington), to replace the June 1 appointment the prime minister missed in order to hurry home from Canada and deal with the flotilla incident of May 31.
Since that incident, in which eight Turks died in a clash between Israeli commandos and IHH activists aboard the Turkish Marvi Marmara, Israel has been plagued by an unbridled worldwide chorus of censure for raiding the ship and condemnation for its siege of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu might have been expected to focus his meeting with the US President on ways to stem the river of hate loosed by Israel's enemies and some erstwhile friends; the Jewish state is under a siege as extreme as that enclosing Gaza. But instead, according to the prime minister's aides, he is planning to present the White House yet another stale "peace initiative" geared to an Israeli offer to restore to Damascus parts of the Golan, the small enclave which Syria lost in the 1967 war after attacking Israel.
No sure Obama welcome for Netanyahu's latest peace plan
Netanyahu's aides have convinced themselves that the need for a partial peace accord between Israel and Syria is the most pressing issue on Obama's mind. They are sure the US president wants nothing more than a new magnet for diverting the spotlight from the row over the joint Israel-Egyptian siege of the Gaza Strip in the form of a tool for loosening Syria's links with Tehran and Hizballah.
President Obama is still avid to cultivate President Bashar Assad, say those Israeli officials, even after Syria grabbed the headlines for several crisis-laden weeks by parking 800 Scud D missiles destined for Hizballah on the Syrian-Lebanese border (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 447 of May 28.).
And indeed, this week, the US president sent a bevy of American telecommunications executives to Damascus, including senior executives from such top firms as Microsoft, Dell and Cisco Systems, shepherded by Alec Ross, a senior adviser of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This was proof for Netanyahu's advisers that the Syrian question is more important to Obama than the Gaza blockade and Turkish convoys.
Netanyahu's office is placing its trust in Internet diplomacy to open Washington doors. His advisers report that Israel's proposed peace initiative with Syria was not dismissed outright when first broached in Internet communications with Washington and even drew some interest.
Assad is definitely not interested
Asked about the response from Damascus, the Israeli officials admitted there was no sign Assad was willing to consider Israel's plan and embark on direct or indirect peace talks. Neither did he show signs of budging from his close military and other bonds with Tehran and Hizballah – regardless of Washington's technological blandishments. Thursday, June 17, he rejected any peace feelers out of hand and called Israel a pyromaniac, his latest pejorative epithet for Jerusalem.
In an all-out effort to cool international condemnation, the Israeli prime minister turned to the Middle East Quartet's (US, Russia, UN and EU) special envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Some say he spent more hours this week closeted with the British diplomat than with his own ministers. Together, they cooked up a "White List, Black List" formula for expanding the lists of goods which Gaza may import for its 1.2 million inhabitants, while banning weapons and items including cement and iron usable for building fortifications and military facilities.
Blair insisted that all the items on the White List be permitted to enter Gaza by sea or land and later, when the Gaza Strip's only airport at Dahaniyeh near Rafah is repaired, by air as well.
European Union and Palestinian Authority monitors would be stationed at all these entry points to Gaza.
This plan, if adopted, would amount to the staged abolition of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
However, in one session after another, the plan put forward by Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak failed to win a majority of political-security cabinet ministers when they met on June 16 and 17. The ministers approved the new list of goods for Gaza, but balked at endorsing the proposal for the selective entry of ships to Gaza port even after inspection.
Anti-peace players outplay, outmaneuver Jerusalem
The sea blockade therefore remains in place. Thursday, June 17, Barak relayed a stiff warning to Beirut via US Middle East envoy George Mitchell that there would be consequences if any ships bound for Gaza were allowed to leave Lebanese ports.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's analysts note that the Netanyahu government keeps on dropping well-meaning proposals based on major concessions and territorial withdrawals into a void. None has any hope of a constructive response from the hostile entities they address, such as Syria and Hamas; nor do they offer a cure for Israel's international predicament.
On the contrary, because they see Netanyahu operating from a position of weakness rather than strength, Turkey and Iran ignore his peace overtures, knowing that any time they push hard, Israel can be made to improve its offer and part with more of its remaining strategic assets.
In the same way, Ankara and Tehran are shunting America aside as a Middle East player, ignoring the show of US naval and military muscle in the Mediterranean this month.
So Israel's decision-makers, political and military, find themselves arguing among themselves about how to handle the current crisis and keep relations with the Obama administration on an even keel – on one plane, as real and seminal events rush forward in the Middle East ,on another.
The two planes never seem to converge, because Israel's leaders are not addressing the Middle East realistically as proactive players – any more than they heeded the writing on the wall of Erdogan's Ankara year after year.
The government in Jerusalem appears to think that its untimely and unwanted diplomatic initiatives will be picked up in Washington and manage to overshadow the untoward events going forward in the region. However, given Israel's low international rating and the Obama administrations' waning regional influence, this is a vain hope. Without picking up on the strategic momentum in the region and addressing the new challenges, the Netanyahu government will end up outmaneuvered and outplayed by its most extreme, anti-peace foes.